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Subject: ‘Famous battles’

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The Black Watch won great battle honours at Ticonderoga

Posted in Famous battles, Historical articles, History, Scotland, War on Tuesday, 18 March 2014

This edited article about Canada first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 596 published on 16 June 1973.

Indians attack British,  picture, image, illustration
Indians attacked the British under Abercromby's command

It began with a ghost in Scotland and ended in a massacre in America.

The ghost appeared to Duncan Campbell of Inverawe Castle in the western Highlands, not long after the rising of 1745, when so many gallant Highlanders had perished trying to place Bonnie Prince Charlie on the throne of Britain.

One night in those wild and dangerous times Duncan Campbell, the Laird of Inverawe, let a stranger covered in blood into his castle. The stranger said he had killed a man in a fight and that pursuers were after him. Campbell agreed to shelter him, but the frightened, blood-stained fugitive made him swear on his dirk that he would not betray him to his pursuers.

Suddenly, there was loud knocking at the door. Duncan Campbell opened it and was told by heavily armed men that his own cousin, Donald, had been murdered. Sick at heart, Duncan did not betray his unwanted guest because of his oath, but that night Donald’s ghost appeared to him and begged him to avenge his murder. Duncan explained that he could not and Donald said: “Very well, then, Inverawe. We shall meet again at Ticonderoga!”

The strange word meant nothing to Duncan Campbell, who later joined the famous Black Watch regiment, which had been raised some years before to police the Highlands. He often mentioned his experience, but none of the other officers had heard of Ticonderoga either.

In 1756, the Black Watch was sent to America where war had broken out once again between Britain and France, the French then owning Canada, and the British possessing 13 colonies which were to become the United States 20 years later. Britain had started the war, known as the Seven Years War in Britain and the French and Indian War in America, with a series of disasters. Her troops, which were trained to fight in the rigid patterns of European warfare, could not cope with the nightmare of war in the American forests, the sudden terrifying war-whoops, bullets and arrows cutting into the ranks, fired by unseen enemies behind dense masses of trees. And their red coats made them perfect targets for enemy marksmen.

By 1750, however, things were a little better. The great William Pitt, Earl of Chatham, had become Prime Minister at home and the war was being properly run, and the British Redcoats were learning something of forest warfare. True, British officers looked down on local American troops, however experienced, and some of the colonists were only too eager to let the British do all the fighting for them. But now, in mid-1758, a great expedition was sailing up the Hudson River to attack Montreal in French Canada by way of a series of lakes that stretched almost continuously up to Canada. Other attacks were under way from different directions, but this one was the big push.

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Richard III was a victim of the Tudor propaganda machine

Posted in Famous battles, Famous crimes, Historical articles, History, Royalty, Shakespeare on Monday, 17 March 2014

This edited article about King Richard III first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 592 published on 19 May 1973.

Richard III,  picture, image, illustration
Richard III put up an heroic fight at Bosworth Field by James E McConnell

The image of Richard III as a monstrous hunchback slaughtering his way to the throne has persisted in the popular mind for almost five centuries. History, it seems, has rarely produced a villain so thoroughly evil or so totally detestable.

This pejorative picture is renewed every time an actor takes the stage to play the part of Richard in Shakespeare’s powerful drama of his life and death. In “Richard III,” the king is shown as a murderer, usurper and schemer, utterly lacking in feeling or morals, who ends, deservedly, the victim of fear-ridden dreams, remorse and violent death.

Shakespeare’s play was produced in 1593 – 108 years after Richard was killed at the battle of Bosworth, the closing conflict of the Wars of the Roses, and the victorious Henry Tudor became King Henry VII.

Shakespeare wrote it for an audience which appreciated the stability strong Tudor rule had brought to England, and which was used to the idea that Henry had been England’s saviour, banishing the dread of civil war and curbing the power of the nobles whose ambitions had fostered it.

The play was very popular, not least because this audience saw in it what it wanted and expected.

However, it was also seeing one of the most diligent pieces of character assassination history has ever known.

The battle of Bosworth saw the end of Richard III in more ways than one, for its sequel was the murder of his reputation.

The contrast between the historical Richard and the heinous villain of Tudor propaganda appears most forcefully in the work of John Rous, a priest who was working on a history of the Earls of Warwick in the closing years of the Wars of the Roses.

In its first version, this history, known today as the Rows Roll, described Richard in particularly effusive terms. Rous wrote of him as “A mighty prince and especially good lord . . . in his realm commendably punishing offenders of the laws . . . . . . by the which discreet guiding he got great thanks and love of all his subjects.”

This was not mere sycophancy. Ample confirmation of Rous’s sentiments exists in several independent sources, and the picture that emerges from them shows that Richard enjoyed much popularity and respect as a fair administrator and a dispenser of justice in whom his subjects could, and did, place great faith.

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Pompey the Great was defeated by the even greater Julius Caesar

Posted in Ancient History, Famous battles, Historical articles, History, War on Saturday, 15 March 2014

This edited article about Pompey the Great first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 590 published on 5 May 1973.

Pompey the Great,  picture, image, illustration
Pompey the Great

In the last century before the birth of Christ, the powerful Roman republic unwittingly built itself a monster. The menace came in the form of thousands of foreign slaves, taken in conquest and put to work on farms in southern Italy.

There were too many of them and they were unmanageable. And, just as some earthquake-prone cities wait for the predicted catastrophe to destroy them, so the ancient Romans waited in dread for the slaves to revolt.

And it happened. The year was 73 B.C. and the man who began it was a Tracian slave named Spartacus. With the speed of a forest fire spreading, a hundred thousand slaves burst from their bonds and held the lower half of Italy in a grip of terror. In Rome, there was panic, with the mob clamouring for action against the bandit insurgents.

In haste, the Senate appointed Marcus Crassus to lead the attack against Spartacus. Crassus was given six legions and he did his work well. He drove Spartacus back across Italy and in the year 71 B.C. defeated the slaves and killed Spartacus. Crassus was pleased with his triumph and celebrated it by crucifying 6,000 of his prisoners along the Appian Way all the way to Rome.

As the victorious general began his triumphant homeward march, a remarkable thing happened. A small band of slaves who had escaped were surprised by the army of another Roman general, Gnaeus Pompeius, on his way home from a war in Spain. The band of slaves was, of course, swiftly annihilated.

A few days later, before the astonished Crassus, Gnaeus Pompeius blandly told the Roman Senate that he was the man who had put down the slave revolt and saved Rome.

This astonishing claim was typically Roman in its flamboyance and typical of Pompeius, whom we call Pompey the Great. Like many of his great contemporaries – the famous orator Cicero, the immortal Julius Caesar – he was a man driven almost mad by ambition, ready to lie, cheat and conquer to earn personal fame.

Pompey’s ultimate target was the dictatorship of the Roman Empire. In the end only one man was capable of cheating him of it – Gaius Julius Caesar, the greatest military leader the world has ever known. But if Caesar had not been there Pompey, always easily influenced, never quite sure of himself, may not have gone down in the record books as one of the greatest of world leaders.

He was born into a noble Roman family in 106 B.C., the son of a high ranking Roman army officer. At 17, he was serving in the army under his father: young Pompey had already found his forte, for it was as a soldier that he was going to make his name and as a civil administrator that he was to unmake it.

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The tragedy of Gallipoli almost ruined Churchill’s career

Posted in Famous battles, Historical articles, History, Invasions, World War 1 on Thursday, 13 March 2014

This edited article about the First World War first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 588 published on 21 April 1973.

Gallipoli, picture, image, illustration
The landings at Gallipoli by Andrew Howat

Every time the candidate got up to speak at an election meeting, several people in the audience would shout: “What about the Dardanelles?” The uproar continued right through the campaign that October in 1923, and, when Polling Day came, Winston Churchill was soundly defeated, losing his seat in Parliament for the first time since he had entered the House of Commons in 1900.

His enemies – and he had plenty of them – laughed gleefully at his downfall. Clearly, he was finished, his career in ruins. Anyone who had suggested at the time that he would one day save his country, as he did in the Second World War in 1940, would have been laughed to scorn.

Churchill, so his opponents claimed, was the man most responsible for one of the most scandalous disasters of the First World War of 1914-18, the Dardanelles Campaign in which there were nearly a quarter of a million casualties, British, Australian, New Zealand and French. An American wrote of it in the 1920s: “It is doubtful if even Great Britain could survive another world war and another Churchill!” And the official Australian war historian of the day had attacked Churchill savagely in print.

Amongst other charges, the Australian had flayed him for lack of imagination. Yet today, his Dardanelles scheme, though it failed tragically, is widely considered to have been one of the only inspired ideas in the long nightmare that was the First World War.

By 1915, there was stalemate on the Western Front in France and Flanders, with seemingly endless trenches stretching from the Channel to the Swiss border. Millions of Germans faced millions of Frenchmen and Britons across the barbed wire, mud and desolation of no-man’s land.

The only tactic dreamt up by baffled or incompetent generals was the occasional bloody frontal attack against machine guns and barbed wire, which gained at the most a few hundred yards at a colossal cost in lives. The object seemed to be to go on killing Germans (or vice versa) until there were none left to kill, leaving the handful of survivors on the other side as the victors.

But there was one possible way to change all this. The first to think of it was Lieutenant-Colonel Hankey, Secretary of the War Council of statesmen and soldiers and sailors who were running the war. Turkey had sided with Germany and Austria while Russia had joined Britain and France, and the Russians wanted the pressure relieved on their hard-pressed front. Hankey thought that if a fleet could sail through the Dardanelles – the narrow channel dividing Asian from European Turkey and leading into the Sea of Marmara and the Black Sea – the fabulous capital city of Constantinople could be taken, Turkey knocked out of the war, and the Russians helped. Most of all, Germany could be attacked from the rear through the Balkans.

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Treacherous Arminius broke the might of Imperial Rome

Posted in Ancient History, Famous battles, Historical articles, History on Thursday, 13 March 2014

This edited article about Ancient Rome first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 587 published on 14 April 1973.

Battle of Teutoburg, picture, image, illustration
The Battle of the Teutoburg Forest in which Arminius beat the Roman forces

Augustus, the first of the Roman emperors, did not like war. “Laurels,” he declared, “are beautiful but barren.” Before he died in A.D. 14, those words were to be brutally thrown back at him by a then little known officer in his Roman army.

He was Arminius, and he had been born the Prince of the Cherusci tribe in Germany about the year 12 B.C. One of the ways the Romans used to subjugate countries over which they marched was to take local chiefs and send them to Rome to be educated, trained and “Romanised.” Thus it was with Arminius and like many other princelings dealt with in this manner, when he returned to his own land he seemed to be more a Roman than a true-born German.

He had done well for himself in Rome. His heroism in battle had earned him honours which included the distinction of Roman citizenship. When he returned to Germany, thoroughly “Romanised,” he was given the command of 1,000 foreign soldiers with which to continue the service of the Emperor Augustus.

With Germans like Arminius and with their own legions, the Romans set about demonstrating to the German barbarians the advantages of the civilised way of life and “the superiority of Roman ways and arts.” The Germans soon realised “their own rudeness” and learnt to take pleasure “in a world of strict order, rigid law, and manifold arts and enjoyments.”

All might have gone well had not the Emperor Augustus sent to Germany a governor named Quintilius Varus, who had earned himself a reputation for brutality and hardness as governor of Judea. Varus imposed the same kind of tyranny upon the Germans, and while he served the Roman governor loyally, Arminius brooded with resentment over the injustices being done to his native people.

Varus never seemed to suspect the true feelings of Arminius, who had been so thoroughly educated in Rome that “the Romans could scarcely recognise the barbarian in him.” But the governor was several times warned by one of his officers, Segestes, another Roman educated German princeling, that Arminius could be a traitor. That the governor refused to heed any of these warnings was astonishing in view of the events that followed.

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The British Empire marched on down the road to Mandalay

Posted in Famous battles, Historical articles, History on Wednesday, 12 March 2014

This edited article about Mandalay first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 587 published on 14 April 1973.

Theebaw, picture, image, illustration

King Theebaw and his wives

 The Fat Man mopped his streaming face and told himself for the hundredth time that he was not built for this sort of thing. They had been marching since before sunrise and the last stage, through dense jungle, had been the worst. The enemy were hidden deep in the tangle of creepers and roots and although their antique muskets were erratic, bullets were flying uncomfortably close. The Fat Man groped automatically for the whisky flask at his hip but then he resisted the temptation. When the time came, he would need a steady hand and eye.

He looked at the brown men around him – the 11th Bengal Native Infantry. They seemed cheerful enough under fire and they had a lot of faith in Baker, their colonel. He was a prudent man, a fact of which the Fat Man strongly approved. He was less impressed with Lieutenant Downes. Bit of a fire-eater, that fellow, he thought, determined to be in the thick of it. The Fat Man decided to avoid Lieutenant Downes as much as possible.

The jungle thinned out and they saw ahead the clearing that surrounded the fort. The real fighting would start soon. That was when the Fat Man would quietly disengage himself from the soldiers and go about his own affairs.

He spotted his rival. That was one of the troubles with his job – always too many amateurs trying to grab the limelight. This one was a captain who hoped he would get in first. The Fat Man gaped; the young fool had started already. He hadn’t the sense to wait for the action.

They halted on the edge of the clearing. Immediately, the guns from the fort opened up. It was November 17, 1885, and the British expedition to Upper Burma was about to attack Minhla.

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Marcus Atilius Regulus returned to Carthage and died with honour

Posted in Africa, Ancient History, Famous battles, Historical articles, History, War on Saturday, 8 March 2014

This edited article about Marcus Regulus first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 586 published on 7 April 1973.

Marcus Atilius Regulus in Carthage,  picture, image, illustration
Marcus Atilius Regulus returned to Carthage by Tancredi Scarpelli

Shading his eyes from the hot sun, Marcus Regulus took one last look at the little farm upon which he sustained his family on the outskirts of Rome. Then he kissed his wife Marcia and his two sons goodbye and mounted his horse. The brief act in the life of Regulus that was to give him an amazing place in history had begun.

Regulus was mindful of it. As he rode towards the Senate House in Rome, his mind dwelt on the circumstances that were projecting him, a poor farmer, into a limelight he had never sought.

In this year of 256 BC Rome was at war with Carthage, her bitter enemy on the north coast of Africa. In time of war, the Senate decreed that the command of the army should go to the two consuls elected for that year – one from the rich patrician class and one from the plebian, or working class.

The patrician consul was Lucius Manlius. And his plebian counterpart was Marcus Atilius Regulus, the farmer.

Regulus had no fear of war, not even with the barbarian Africans of Carthage, who were known to feed their prisoners to the flames of the furnace in the belly of their giant, grotesque idol Moloch. But he was justified in being apprehensive of this particular war, for Carthage was famed for her fleet which ruled the Mediterranean, and to defeat the Africans Rome had first to win the war at sea.

To that end, the shipyards of Rome had been at full strength for months, building a fleet to match that of Carthage. Nearly 150,000 sailors were planned to man the new ships – helmsmen, oarsmen, and perhaps most important of all, handlers of the corvus, the secret weapon with which Rome’s architects of war hoped to win the sea battle – the victory they had to have before the land battle on Carthagian territory.

The corvus was simply a grappling iron. With it the Romans planned to pull the Carthaginian ships to their side so that their soldiers, who had little or no experience of fighting at sea, could turn the fight into a land battle, the land being the decks of the two ships linked by the corvus.

Regulus dwelt on all these things as, with his orders from the Senate, he embarked with his co-consul Manlius at the head of Rome’s 330 glittering new fighting ships. It wasn’t long before, off the coast of Sicily, they sighted the Carthaginian fleet, larger still, and commanded by Hanno and Hamilcar, two of ancient history’s shrewdest, battle-hardened admirals.

The Romans used ships as they used men – always in tight formation. To break that formation was the enemy’s first priority. Hanno and Hamilcar sailed their great quinqueremes straight at the Roman wedge formation, splitting it in two. Then they split the two into three, isolating each section before bringing it under fire.

Regulus had one strategy, and only one. That was the corvus. If it failed, if he could not bring his ships close in to the enemy, he would be at the mercy of their superior seamanship. Through the Carthaginian broadsides of deadly arrows and huge, burning darts, he sailed remorselessly closer – and closer.

The iron chains of the grappling irons rattled ominously as they swung out through the air, fell, and anchored themselves on the Carthaginian decks. Wooden prows struck and splintered as the Romans, glistening with sweat, pulled on the chains, dragging the enemy ships full against their sides, crunching the outstretched oars as the gap between them closed. Up went the drawbridge and over them went the Roman soldiers, shield to shield, spears poised to strike a thousand lethal blows.

They had turned the sea battle into a ‘land’ battle. And on land they were the masters.

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Stirling’s Raiders were officially called L Detachment S.A.S.

Posted in Africa, Bravery, Famous battles, Historical articles, History, Weapons, World War 2 on Friday, 7 March 2014

This edited article about the Second World War first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 584 published on 24 March 1973.

Stirling's Raiders,  picture, image, illustration
David Stirling leads 'Stirling's Raiders' against German and Italian air forces in North Africa by Graham Coton

Hobbling on his crutches, the 6 ft. 6 in. Scottish subaltern presented himself at the main entrance of Middle East Headquarters in Cairo one July morning in 1941, only to be told that no one could enter without a pass. He moved away, waited until the sentries were busy with the occupants of a staff car, then left his crutches against a tree and slipped through a break in the barbed wire. “Stop that man!” roared one of the sentries, but by that time David Stirling, Scots Guards, attached to No. 8 Commando, had disappeared through the front door of H. Q.

Moving as fast as his back and leg injuries would allow – he had been in a parachute accident – he found a door marked Adjutant General and marched in. The major within not only told him to clear out, but reminded him that they had met before when Stirling had slept through his lectures on tactics!

So Stirling decided to aim higher and gatecrashed General Ritchie, Deputy Chief-of-Staff, Middle East, who liked the look of his unexpected guest and asked what he wanted. It turned out that the lame lieutenant wanted to destroy the German and Italian air forces on the ground!

Stirling had become convinced that as modern war was now so mobile, small groups operating behind enemy lines and destroying planes, ammunition dumps, repair shops and vehicles could achieve more than most air attacks. Ritchie liked the idea and summoned in his assistant, who turned out to be the fuming major that Stirling had just left. The major hoped he could arrest the young upstart, but instead found himself being ordered to help him. Ritchie passed Stirling’s plans on to the Commander-in-Chief, General Auchinleck, who liked them so much that he ordered the giant Scot to recruit six officers and 60 men and set up a training camp.

He collected his volunteers and soon proved his point by two “attacks” on an R.A.F. base and a naval vessel, using dummy bombs and then ringing up the next day to ask for them back! One of his men, Lieutenant Jock Lewes, invented a combined explosive and incendiary bomb for their raids, a time bomb which weighed under a pound, but could knock out a plane. A single soldier could carry 24 of them.

Stirling’s men were known as L Detachment S.A.S. – Special Air Service – which would make the Germans think that there were British parachute troops in the North African desert.

Even David Stirling’s quick brain did not at once stumble on the right method of transport for his men. Their first operation used planes to get them near their target and then the men dropped by parachute, but the raid failed because too many men failed to rendezvous after the drop. So it was decided to team up with the Long Range Desert Group, a reconnaissance unit, who could take them by truck exactly where they wanted to go and pick them up again after their raids.

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Pierre Bayard – the last great knight from the Age of Chivalry

Posted in Bravery, Famous battles, Historical articles, History, Royalty, War on Thursday, 6 March 2014

This edited article about Pierre Bayard first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 581 published on 3 March 1973.

Pierre Bayard,  picture, image, illustration
How brave Bayard held the Bridge by Peter Jackson

Watching from a hilltop the fierce battle raging below him, King Charles the Eighth of France nudged an aide at his side.

“There is a young knight of our army who is forever in the thick of the fight,” he observed. “You see him yonder, covered with blood. What is his name?”

Following the King’s outstretched arm, the aide replied, “He is Pierre Bayard, sire, a knight of Dauphine.”

The scene was the Battle of Fornovo in Italy; the month and the year, July, 1495. Charles had set out for the southern country determined to win back for France the city-state of Naples, which had been taken by the Spanish. He had succeeded in the task but now, on the way back, the people of northern Italy were standing their ground at Fornovo and fighting the invaders. They wanted to make the French army pay for the looting they had practised on their outward journey through Italy.

Right was on the Italians’ side, but might was with the French. They swept the Italians aside at Fornovo in a bloody day of fighting. And of all the brave men who performed deeds of valour on that field, none was braver than the 20-year-old knight Pierre Bayard, whom King Charles himself had noticed.

Twice Bayard had a horse killed under him and each time he vaulted on to a fresh mount and plunged anew into the fray. His zeal took him into the core of the Italian army; there, flailing with his sword, he uprooted an enemy banner. At the end of the day he presented the trophy to the King. Impressed, Charles gave his loyal young knight a reward of 500 crowns.

France was to hear much more of Pierre Bayard for, as some men grow up with a single-minded ambition, Bayard’s aim from his earliest boyhood was to become a famous soldier – to make himself a legend of chivalry and honour in the Renaissance times in which he lived.

We often say of well-born people that they were born with a silver spoon in their mouths. In the case of le Seigneur de Pierre Bayard it was not a silver spoon so much as a sword of honour. For in the two centuries before his birth nearly every head of his noble family at their magnificent chateau in Dauphine had fallen in battle.

Like all his famous ancestors, Pierre’s father had the scent of battle in his nostrils. He belonged to the fast-dying medieval school of knightly chivalry and each day he indoctrinated young Pierre with the chivalric code of honour: “Serve God. Be kindly and courteous to all men of gentle breeding. Be humble to all people. Be neither a flatterer nor a teller of tales. Be faithful in deed and in speech. Always keep your word.”

The great passion of chivalry, symbolised in tournaments, parading ladies and sumptuous banquets, was fast ebbing away when Pierre Bayard was born into a family that would not let it go.

At the last of the great tournaments young Bayard spurred his horse and broke his lance several times by driving it into the ground – a favourite trick of jousting knights to show the strength of their arm. The ladies clapped and cheered shrilly. When the day came for him to leave the family castle to seek his fortune we are told that “finding himself astride his well-bred roan, he deemed he was in Paradise.”

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The heroes at Rorke’s Drift earned eleven Victoria Crosses

Posted in Africa, Bravery, Famous battles, Heroes and Heroines, Historical articles, History, War on Thursday, 6 March 2014

This edited article about Rorke’s Drift first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 581 published on 3 March 1973.

Rorke's Drift,  picture, image, illustration
Battle of Rorke's Drift, Natal,during the Anglo-Zulu War of 1879 by Joseph Ratcliffe Skelton

Dust flicked into the horseman’s eyes and caked on to his skin still prickling with fear and shock. The rocky landscape flashed by, a cheerless, inhospitable vista which, for all its surface calm, could easily hide clutches of warriors, ready to pounce, not content, as Lieutenant Vane well knew, merely to kill their victims. After what had happened at Isandhlwana, Vane had no doubt about the fate that awaited him if he fell into Zulu hands.

A gentle rise in the ground brought him within sight of Rorke’s Drift. It looked pitifully vulnerable, just a couple of long, stone buildings with the slopes of Mount Oskarberg rising behind them, and it had no defences, no ramparts and no entrenchments.

The wave of Zulus swarming over the few miles from Isandhlwana could swamp the place in minutes and “wash their spears,” as their ruthless king had commanded, in yet more human blood.

The ferocity and dedication of the Zulu warrior was well known and well feared in the Transvaal a century ago. The Boers, who first ventured there in 1835, had found them a constant danger to their farms, their herds, in fact to their very survival, and when the British annexed the Transvaal in 1877, they inherited the problem.

Their solution was both imperious and arbitrary: the only way to remove the Zulu menace was to annexe Zululand.

It was to provide an excuse for annexation that in December 1878, the British presented Cetawayo, the Zulu king, with demands they knew he could not meet: for to do so would have meant handing his land and people over to the British and dismantling his army.

As expected, Cetawayo ignored the ultimatum, and the result, as planned, was the invasion of Zululand in mid-January 1879 by 13,000 British troops.

When their entry went unopposed, many British soldiers presumed that this was to be yet another colonial war in which wild, disorganised savages would be quickly overcome by the superior weapons and fighting methods of the white man.

The first troops to discover the fatal falsity of this notion were those who were encamped, casually and without defences, at Isandhlwana on 22nd January. That morning, a great tide of Zulus poured down from the surrounding hills and erupted into the camp, slashing and stabbing with their assegais until over 1,300 men lay dead.

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